‘Great journeys begin with a single step’

While he admits that he might have ‘bitten off more than he can chew’, Size of Jersey founder Jonathan Stark tells Tom Ogg that he believes he can achieve his 45-square-mile reforestation goal

Maximilian Young (30637099)
Maximilian Young (30637099)

WHEN the JEP last spoke to Jonathan Stark in October, The Size of Jersey founder was optimistic that the remainder of 2020 would be a productive time for his eco-friendly fundraising project.

'The winter of 2020 is predicted to be gloomy, but this is a real opportunity to do something to make it better,' he said.

As expected, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic did indeed make for a gloomy winter but, sadly, it also proved to be somewhat gloomy for Jonathan and the Size of Jersey team, with the tough restrictions put in place by the Jersey government making it increasingly difficult to organise fundraising initiatives.

'To be honest, it can be a challenge to remain optimistic when such obstacles are blocking the way,' says the Scotland-born campaign manager, chatting over the phone from his home in St Brelade. 'We've often had to rely on engaging with our supporters purely via Facebook in the hope that the support continues to come in.'

Launched in August last year, The Size of Jersey aims to regrow and repopulate close to 12,000 hectares of former rainforest in Northern Sumatra – an area roughly equivalent to the total land mass of Jersey.

Working in partnership with Indonesia-based conservation group Forum Konservasi Leuser, Jonathan and co aim to clear and reforest four illegally planted palm oil concessions, an accomplishment that would both offset one third of Jersey’s annual carbon emissions and restore wildlife to one of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems.

Suffice to say, such an ambitious undertaking requires an equally ambitious amount of fundraising – and, thankfully, this year has thus far proven a marked improvement over 2020.

'2021 started off great with The Size of Jersey Christmas Tree Cycle, which was sponsored by AAA Tree Services, and which allowed Islanders to drop off their old Christmas trees so that they could be turned into mulch in return for a donation,' says Jonathan. 'We used the AAA Tree Services' woodchipper and the event raised around £1,500, which was a fantastic start to the year. We'll aim to recreate this event bigger and better next year.

'We've also now set up the Heroes for Hectares initiative whereby we ask Islanders to pledge a monthly donation which will allow them to restore a minimum of one hectare of forest each year.'

To restore a hectare – 100m x 100m – costs £144, meaning that a monthly donation of just £12 is enough to meet the pledge although, as Jonathan says, Islanders are invited to donate more or less if they wish.

'We want to keep Heroes for Hectares in line with our idea that The Size of Jersey is an Island-wide project that everyone can be part of. We've also had many offers of support from the Jersey business community which are all massively appreciated. We're still waiting for the organisation to be registered as a charity, though, which has held us back somewhat in our ability to scale things up. As soon as that's done, we will be chasing up all the generous offers of support and trying to make the progress required in the coming months.'

Open and honest as always, Jonathan is upfront about the fact that progress on The Size of Jersey has been steadier than he had initially hoped.

'Since I spoke to the JEP last year, there have been a few hiccups and setbacks,' he says. 'The grassroots nature of The Size of Jersey has huge benefits in that it enables us to reinvent what it means to be a conservation organisation without expensive running costs, salaries and bureaucracy to deal with. We are literally a website, a Facebook page and a crowdfunding site, which means that every penny donated goes directly towards our mission.'

There are, however, less positive aspects to being such a grassroots organisation: 'The downside of starting with very little is that we need to rely on the generosity of Islanders who volunteer their time to help make the concept a reality. So far we have had a lot of people step up to offer their guidance and support but, when all is said and done, a project of this scale does require some structure and we are working on this as we speak.

'Admin has never been my strong point so I am keen to recruit a variety of interested parties from different professional backgrounds who can help me with the structure [of The Size of Jersey]. The possibility of partnering with another local organisation is also a possibility. I am learning as I go along so, hopefully, our followers are patient and understand that there are only so many hours in the day at the moment. I believe the concept is very strong and I believe we will achieve our goal eventually, although we will need to evolve along the way and learn as we go.'

All of which shouldn't detract from the very notable successes that The Size of Jersey team have achieved, not least sending a substantial donation of £6,000 to the Forum Konservasi Leuser.

'The FKL are our partners in the field and this donation has paid for the construction of our restoration camp at the edge of the first illegal palm oil concession that we will be restoring back to forest,' says Jonathan. 'The next £6,000 instalment will go towards the construction of a tree nursery where we will begin to grow a mixture of the 25 different tree species which will be planted across 30% of the site.'

As Jonathan explains, these species can be divided into three categories: commercial fruit-bearing natives, non-commercial natives and temporary livelihood species.

'The reason behind this is that we would like the forest we are planting to generate an income for the local people through the harvesting of native fruit trees while simultaneously creating a representative assortment of non-commercial trees species that will make up the expected forest diversity found in the Leuser Ecosystem.'

The 'temporary livelihood species', meanwhile, will be planted to secure an income for local people while they wait for the fruit trees to mature to the point of bearing fruits.

'The remaining 70% of each hectare returns through a process of natural succession and this allows us to keep the costs of restoration relatively low, at least when compared to other forest restoration projects.'

The hope is that, as The Size of Jersey project progresses, and the forest gradually returns, so too will the wildlife that calls the fragile Leuser Ecosystem its home.

'Leuser is the last place on earth where elephant, rhino, tiger and orang-utan share the same habitat,' says Jonathan. 'It also accommodates a mind-blowing diversity of other species, from sun bears to pangolins and clouded leopard to sun squirrels – the list is endless.'

Born and raised in Edinburgh, Jonathan moved to Jersey in 2006 after being accepted for a position at Jersey Zoo, then known as Durrell Wildlife Park.

'I'd worked in conservation since leaving school but this was an opportunity to work with great apes, which have always been a big passion of mine.'

The next decade would be spent working as senior gorilla and orang-utan keeper at the Zoo, a position which often entailed Jonathan travelling abroad as part of the Durrell Wildlife Trust's conservation projects, among which was the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme.

'I travelled out to Sumatra and spent time with [SOCP conservation director and former Jersey Zoo keeper] Dr Ian Singleton. He was recently awarded an OBE, which is good. I was so inspired by my visit and by the work that Ian is doing.'

Today, Dr Singleton acts as the official scientific adviser for The Size of Jersey project, alongside Goldman Environmental Prize-winning conservationist Rudi Putra as project manager and, of course, Jonathan himself as campaign manager.

'I'm actually going to be heading off-island for the next two months to work with another project, The Kafunjo Community Project in Uganda,' say Jonathan. 'The project provides free food and education to over 350 children with accommodation for 140 orphans. I've been involved with this project for the last seven years and, during this time, we have purchased 20 hectares of agricultural land to provide food and self-sufficiency through permaculture. We even have our own forest restoration project and it was my work with Kafunjo that gave me the confidence to try to take on a more ambitious project with The Size of Jersey.

'My aim is to divide my time while out in Uganda between The Size of Jersey and Kafunjo in an effort to push both projects further forward in readiness for a season of good wholesome fundraising once I'm back on the Island.'

As is no doubt apparent, Jonathan remains cautiously optimistic that the hugely ambitious goal of The Size of the Jersey can still be met.

'Yes, I'm forever hopeful that we can make the dream a reality,' he says. 'To stay on track, we need to raise £500,000 per year for the next three years, and to date we have raised £12,000 so, despite the generosity of those who have supported us so far, it has been a rather inauspicious start perhaps.

'However, great journeys begin with a single step and I believe we have done well in getting our mission into the hearts and minds of Islanders by engaging with them on our social media channels. I am certainly committed to making it happen, one way or another, and I have faith that Jersey has what it takes to join me in the mission.

'Perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew,' he adds. 'But I believe we might as well think big, reach for the stars and create something positive during these difficult times. I hope Islanders will join me.'

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• For more information on The Size of Jersey, visit sizeofjersey.org or The Size of Jersey page on Facebook for regular updates.

• To donate, or to make a pledge to Hectares for Heroes, visit gogetfunding.com/sizeofjersey.

• Any businesses interested in becoming a business ambassador for The Size of Jersey is asked to email sizeofjersey@gmail.com.

• For more on The Kafunjo Community Project in Uganda, visit kafunjo.org.

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